You want your resume to stand out, but lying’s not the way to do. In spite of this, nearly half of workers know someone who’s stretched the truth about their work history. Why do we do it?
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Of all the pearls of wisdom uttered by George Costanza over the years on Seinfeld, perhaps the greatest was, “Jerry, just remember — it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
The same philosophy must be running through the veins of job applicants these days, as nearly half (46%) of workers surveyed by staffing firm OfficeTeam say they know someone who included false information on a resume, a 25-point jump from a 2011 survey. Job experience (76%) and duties (55%) were cited as the areas that are most frequently embellished.
Apparently it doesn’t matter how much the applicants believe their exaggerated career stats though because hiring managers aren’t buying it. OfficeTeam’s research found that 53% of senior managers suspect candidates often stretch the truth on resumes, and 38% said their company has removed an applicant from consideration for a position after discovering he or she lied.
All of this begs the question — if applicants are knowingly lying on their resumes, and hiring managers are catching them at it, why do job searchers continue to do it?
The answer may be fairly simple, and the motivation, dare we say, honest.
Candidates may embellish their accomplishments in previous positions because they want hiring managers to think they meet the requirements for the job for which they’re applying, explains Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager for OfficeTeam in Madison. Some professionals may stretch the truth — claiming to have managed a project team when they actually co-managed it with a colleague, for example — because they assume employers won’t bother to verify these details.
Make your resume stand out
Cut to the chase. Quantify past accomplishments and make sure these details are front and center. This allows an employer to clearly recognize how you can impact the company’s bottom line.
Tailor the content. Customize your resume so it speaks directly to a potential employer’s needs — mirror the language and keywords found in the job description.
Keep it simple. Refrain from using complicated language, graphics, or distracting fonts that can make the resume difficult to read. Use bullet points as appropriate.
Clear the clutter. Don’t muddle your message by cluttering your resume with extraneous personal information such as hobbies and interests that have little or no relevance to your professional pursuits.
Use the right terms. Since many resumes are first scanned by computer programs, help your resume rise to the top by incorporating keywords from the job ad, as long as these terms accurately describe your skills and experience.
Do the two-minute test. Ask a friend or family member to review your resume and summarize its key points for you. Make sure the most valuable information is being conveyed to readers. Also, enlist the help of someone to proofread and check for typos.
“In a competitive job market, professionals may feel like they need to do whatever it takes to help make their resumes stand out,” says Truckenbrod. “If applicants have information on their resumes that could be viewed as red flags, such as employment gaps or a record of job hopping, they may be tempted to cover up details by stretching the truth.”
Despite these concerns, Truckenbrod says it’s still never acceptable to lie on a resume.
If applicants are worried about so-called red flags, Truckenbrod says there are a lot of better options than stretching the truth.
Proactively offering an explanation for any red flags up front in the cover letter or interview can remove a hiring manager’s potential misgivings, she notes.
Here are some common sticky resume situations for job seekers and ways to handle them:
You have a gap in your work history. Consider using a combination resume that draws attention to your skills and accomplishments, rather than dates of employment. Address gaps in your cover letter or first interview and highlight how you stayed productive during breaks.
You have a record of job hopping. Emphasize the experience and insight you’ve gained from working for more than one employer. Show that you’ve taken on increasing levels of responsibility with each jump. You’ll also allay the hiring manager’s concerns by offering specific reasons for job hopping in the past and explaining why that won’t be the case this time.
You’ve only worked for one company. List each position you’ve held at the company to show career growth. Even if you have had the same title the entire time you’ve worked there, explain how the role has changed or you’ve taken on more challenging projects.
You’ve held several temporary positions but few full-time roles. Include temporary assignments just as you would full-time ones, using the name of the staffing firm that represented you as your employer and grouping all of your assignments from that company together.
Your former employer no longer operates under the same name. If the company changed names, list the current name, followed by what the firm was formerly known as in parentheses. Including both names ensures that potential employers can locate the appropriate information when verifying your work history and conducting reference checks. If your former employer has gone out of business, also note that in parentheses.